The King is a big deal in Thailand and his birthday is a testament to how much he is revered by the Thai people. Here in Chiang Mai, there are usually two celebrations; one that is organized to bring the local international community together and another one that is organized by the city powers-that-be. As part of the organizing committee this year, I helped with the prior one. Because of all my other obligations, I didn’t do a lot but it was interesting meeting with the local big whigs and realizing that it doesn’t really matter where you live…politics, power and face are always part of the process. And I will stop there!
The King has reigned since 1946, making him the world’s longest-serving current head of state and the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history, serving for 69 years. His December 5 birthday is also known as Father’s Day throughout Thailand.
He was actually born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the United States in 1927 while his father was enrolled in the public health program at Harvard University, which explains his being the only monarch to be born in the US. He had a life-long enthusiasm for photography and jazz. He was given his first camera in 1934 and started playing the saxophone in 1942. Aside from being an accomplished musician, he has also composed several popular jazz pieces.
Our parade had about 1700 participants, including a few hundred that we had to feed and water at the beginning of the parade as part of the agreements we made with them to participate. This included a few hundred soldiers, policemen and hill tribe families in their colorful attire. Add in a couple of marching bands, several schools and universities, assorted expats, a few floats and a bunch of dignitaries and it becomes a big production!
The procession started outside of town at a large local market and followed a route into town to end at the Three Kings Monument in the center of the old city. The whole walk took about an hour and a half to complete. We had organized water handouts along the way since the temperature was in the 30s, about the same as last years event.
Anyway, a good time was had by all. The festivities didn’t end until 10pm but by the 4pm end of the parade, we were festivaled out. We had been doing stuff since 10 in the morning and had had enough for the day!